Composting is a fantastic decision for anyone trying to be more sustainable. Not only does it reduce waste, but it gives back to the earth with nutrients to help plants thrive. After weeks or even months of composting, you'll finally have a natural fertilizer. So, now what? How do you properly use that compost?
While it may seem obvious that you want to mix compost with soil to enrich it, there are plenty of different ways to do that. How much compost you add to soil and how it's added will depend on what you're trying to accomplish. There are also options for those that don't have any garden beds or plants of their own. For those of you unsure what to do with all that black gold at home, here's everything we're getting into:
- What is compost used for?
- How to tell when compost is ready
- 13 uses of compost for gardens, houseplants, and more
- How to store compost for later use
If you're only just getting started with this composting thing, don't worry. We're going to start with what exactly compost is even used for.
What is compost used for?
Compost is a mix of broken-down organic materials that gets mixed with soil to improve its quality. The ingredients used to make compost generally consist of yard waste and food scraps, which results in a combination of nutrients essential to plants. Adding compost to soil helps plants get those nutrients.
How to tell when compost is ready
There are a few tell-tale signs your compost is ready. The first is that there won't be any recognizable chunks of waste in it. Finished compost has a fine, crumbly, and smooth texture to it. The second is that it will also have a dark and rich color, similar to a dark soil. Finally, it should smell like moist earth.
If your compost looks mostly ready, but there are just some larger and recognizable chunks in it, that will also be fine to use if you want to do so. In that case, you'll just want to sift your compost using a compost screener. Just make sure you don't add any unfinished compost to your soil because that can attract pests that will harm your plants. You can also check out our article on how to achieve finer compost in the future.
If you're not used to composting and you're not sure you can tell it's finished just by looking at it, you can also try a bag test. To do that, place a handful of the compost in a sealable bag and remove all the air before sealing it. Let this sit for a few days. Once you open it again, check how it smells. If it's unpleasant, it needs more time to finish composting.
If you think your compost is taking too long, you can check our guide on how to speed up the process. You can also use an electric home composter like Lomi if you don’t want to spend too much time or effort making compost the traditional way.
13 uses of compost for gardens, houseplants, and more
Because composting is something that we would encourage everyone to do, whether you have gardens or not, we're suggesting many different ways that compost can be used. No matter your situation, you should be able to implement at least one of these great suggestions.
1. Enrich your vegetable garden
Fertilizing your own vegetables with homemade compost is absolutely wonderful. When you do that, you're creating a sustainable waste cycle that goes from your kitchen, to your garden, and back to your kitchen. Plus, that compost only makes your vegetables even more nutritious.
To use compost in your garden, you can start by adding about a handful of compost in each of the planting holes. Once they're growing, you're going to want to add a layer of compost on top of the soil in the fall. Once spring rolls around, you can till the compost into the soil. Do that with all your vegetable garden beds and be prepared for delicious produce!
Pro tip: Don't be afraid to provide heavy feeder plants with even more compost than the rest. You can give them a half-inch layer of compost about every month.
2. Rejuvenate your lawn
Although it may not be as obvious, compost is also a great fertilizer for lawns, whether you're putting in new turf or want to improve an existing lawn. When putting in new turf, you can add a few inches of compost to the soil base. For existing lawns, you can spread a thin layer of compost on top of the grass and gently rake the soil surface. The compost will work its way into the soil, providing extra nutrients to your grass.
Pro tip: You can also treat bald spots on your lawn with compost! Add about an inch of compost to the native soil in the bald spot and reseed.
3. Make DIY potting soil
Here's some good news for everyone without a yard but plenty of indoor plants: you can use compost to make your own potting soil. If you turn enough of your own waste into compost, you won't even need to buy potting mix for your potted plants. All you need to do is mix 1 part screened compost with 1 part vermiculite and 1 part native soil.
Pro tip: You can make potting mix as your compost finishes and store it for when you need it in a dry container away from sun and moisture.
4. Use some as mulch
Compost doesn't even need to be mixed into soil to be beneficial for plants. You can simply add a few inches of compost to the soil surface to use compost as mulch for garden plants. Compost's absorbent nature aids water retention, and its density prevents weed growth in garden beds.
Pro tip: Choosing to use compost as mulch instead of something like shredded wood chips or leaves gives the added benefit of nutrients seeping into the soil.
5. Create compost tea
The finished compost doesn't need to be the end product, either. You can also turn your compost into compost tea. Although it's called tea, it doesn't actually involve the steps you would expect for brewing tea, as it focuses far more on fermentation instead.
While making compost tea is a bit more work than taking it straight from the pile, the tea is shown to be beneficial to plants, including improving their growth and their health. You can check out this great guide on how to make compost tea.
Pro tip: Using compost tea is generally pretty easy as you can just add some to the water you use to water your plants, but here are some helpful tips on how to use compost tea.
6. Mix with soil for planting trees and shrubs
Compost can be added around a newly planted tree to help it grow. That compost and soil mix sort of acts like the layer of vegetation the tree would be growing around on a forest floor. This provides the tree with extra nutrients, helps the soil retain moisture, and keeps it cool. You can do this by adding compost to the top 2 inches of soil around the tree trunk.
Pro tip: Don't add compost to a freshly dug hole that you're planning on planting a tree into. This will actually discourage the roots from growing as much as they should, stunting the growth of the tree.
7. Maintain trees and shrubs with extra compost
There are a few ways you can use compost to maintain trees and shrubs in your yard that have already been planted. For one, you can add compost to the soil around the plants once or twice per year to provide them with extra nutrients. You can also add a thick layer of compost to the soil surface to improve the soil's moisture and temperature.
Pro tip: Don't put compost directly on the trees or shrubs. Doing that can cause pests or disease to harm the plants.
8. Provide extra nutrients for flowers in the spring
The early spring is an ideal time to apply compost to the garden. This will help new root growth and disease prevention as plants are growing and blooming. The compost will also improve the soil structure and prepare it to withstand the dry heat of the upcoming summer.
Pro tip: Add some compost to the planting hole for spring flower bulbs! This will help feed bulbs that have been divided recently.
9. Provide protection for your flowers in the fall
Just like with the spring, the fall is another great time to add compost to garden beds. This will once again help with disease prevention. It's also a great time to apply compost to the top layer of the garden. This will prevent weed growth and roots from freezing while promoting continued plant growth.
Pro tip: For fall perennials, adding some compost to their planting hole will not only help the plants grow, but can also extend their bloom time.
10. Feed potted plants and window boxes
Even if you've already got plenty of plants potted, you can still give them an added boost with compost without swapping out for that DIY potting soil. Because they're confined to a limited amount of soil, potted plants will naturally absorb the nutrients from that soil, leaving it fairly depleted. You can easily replenish those nutrients with compost. To use compost in potted plants, just add an inch of compost to the soil twice per year.
Pro tip: Growing plants often need to be moved to bigger pots. When that happens, change out the old soil for some DIY soil using some black gold from your compost pile.
11. Share compost with friends and neighbors
You may find that you have absolutely no use for compost at home. Maybe you live in a small apartment with zero yard space and you don't have any indoor plants. Well, that shouldn't discourage you from composting because that compost will be helpful to someone else.
If you have friends who have a garden or even a single plant, they could definitely use compost. Don't be afraid to give your compost pile away to anyone you think could use some!
Pro tip: If you have friends or family that love gardening and have tons of garden plants, dress up your finished compost as a gift for them. All you need to do is add in some other little gardening tools or decorations and you've got the perfect gift for a gardener.
12. Bring finished compost to a community garden
Even if you don't personally know someone with a garden doesn't mean you won't be able to supply finished compost to those who could use it. Community gardens are fairly common, and they could always use compost. If you know of a community garden in your region, definitely reach out to the person or group in charge of the garden. They'll probably be happy to hear someone is willing to just give away some finished compost.
Pro tip: If you don't have space at home to garden, participating in a community garden can be quite the fulfilling activity. It's great physical activity, helps the environment, and most importantly, is helpful to the people in your community.
13. Take some to the farmer's market
If you don't know any gardeners and there aren't any community gardens in your area, you can also try taking your finished compost to the farmers market. The farmer's market will always be full of farmers that always need compost to fertilize their farms. There's no harm in going up to any of them and asking if you can donate (or maybe even trade) your finished compost.
Pro tip: Even if you don't think anyone in your life could use compost, just ask around. You never know who secretly has a house covered in plants that could seriously use ask much compost as they can get.
How to store compost for later use
If you currently have more compost than you need to use, you'll need to store it for later. If you give your compost away, or if you use a composting machine like Lomi to create small amounts of nutrient-rich dirt on a daily basis, then you're probably going to be storing compost often. Luckily, compost is super easy to store.
Compost needs to be stored in breathable containers. Compost requires aeration even after it's done so that microbes in the compost don't die. Plastic containers with holes in them or woven bags make good compost containers. After that, they need to be stored in a cool and dry location away from any moisture or the sun. With that, you can easily access the stored compost whenever you need it.
Not only is composting great for the environment, but you can see it also has plenty of beneficial uses around the yard and in the home. Even if you have no use for it yourself, you can easily give it away to others who would benefit from it. If you're looking for an easy way to start composting yourself, check out the electric composter Lomi. It's simple to use and provides natural fertilizer in less than a day. You can also check our guide on how to start composting at home. Start turning your own food waste into a helpful and sustainable product!
Written by: Sereana Simpson